By Katherine Brown
As the U.S. prepares to pull the last of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a survey out today shows Afghans are largely optimistic about their future and are confident in their national army, police and government.
According to yearly polling by the Asia Foundation, a plurality of Afghans has thought their country was moving in the right direction since the polls began in 2004. While U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed the troop drawdown in June, the trend held this year, with 46 percent of those surveyed -- approximately 6,500 Afghans -- expressing optimism. In 2008, the figure was 38 percent.
The survey recorded remarkably high levels of confidence in the country's security and governance institutions. The Afghan National Army enjoyed 93 percent of the confidence of those polled; followed by the Afghan National Police, at 83 percent. Surprising? Yes. But so is this: 73 percent of respondents said the government is doing "quite a good job" or a "very good job" -- a figure unchanged from last year.
There was also 67 percent confidence in provincial governments; 62 percent in parliament; and 55 percent in the state justice system. These were the highest levels of confidence ever recorded in the survey. In contrast, a March 2011 ABC/Washington Post poll found that only 26 percent of Americans were optimistic about "our system of government and how well it works."
What explains the popular support for Afghan institutions? It may simply reflect pride that they could even exist in a country that's been ravaged for decades. And some Afghans were not so sure about the people in high places: For instance, 40 percent said they think that members of parliament want to serve their own interests rather than the public's; 47 percent say the same of government ministers.
In another reason for concern, 35 percent of those surveyed said the country was moving in the wrong direction, the highest ever on the Asia Foundation poll. Half attributed their belief to "bad security." These Aghans tended to live in the east and the south of the country, the traditional stronghold of the Taliban, where the bulk of fighting has taken place.
Better news is that only a third of the public had sympathy for armed opposition groups -- a figure that has fallen from 56 percent in 2009. Consistent with their confidence in the Afghan government, 82 percent of respondents encouraged official efforts toward peace and reconciliation, signaling that they favor a political solution to armed conflict.
More men than women, however, supported a political solution. Women undoubtedly worry that if the Taliban were brought back into government, their rights would again erode.
(Katherine Brown is on the staff of Bloomberg View. She was a manager with the Asia Foundation from 2005-09.)-0- Nov/15/2011 16:28 GMT